The Times' expose into how brands are funding extremist content has provoked action from global marketers to ensure they're not the face of the next brand safety crisis. However, Nissan’s global marketing boss has cautioned that ad fraud is the more damaging problem being overlooked.
That's not to say Roel de Vries hasn't taken the damning ‘brands funding terror’ reports seriously. Alongside the marketers from the UK government, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, it reviewed its media buying processes and bulked up internal know-how. Speaking to The Drum, the head of brand and marketing applauded how much more time and investment is going into blocking and excluding unsafe and illegal sites.
And thanks to marketers actively tackling the problem, the dial is moving is moving in the right direction. According to the Media Quality Report from Integral Ad Science, brand safety risk in the UK fell from 6.8% in the second half of 2016 to 3.7% in the first half of 2017.
But a more pertinent concern is measurement and fraud, with de Vries warning that despite the promises from Google and Facebook to break down the so-called 'walled gardens' it's still a "risky" area of the marketing mix.
In another blow to Facebook - which is still overcoming reports of mismeasurement on video ads from last year - it was found by one research firm to be claiming to advertisers that it can reach more young people than actually exist in the UK, the US and Australia.
In the UK for example, Facebook says it can reach 7.8 million users aged between 18 and 24, however, the Office of National Statistics notes there were only 5.8 million people in that age group in the whole in the country in 2016.
This is a big problem for Nissan, which was estimated to have spend over $2bn on ads in 2016.
“The industry, and the big players in the industry, are still not very secure in making sure that we only buy the real stuff," said de Vries.
“They are going to fix that over time but in my view it’s still not resolved. I’m more worried about our dollars and our pounds going into things that we are not getting results from as opposed to brand safety.”
Following the fallout of a 2016 media transparency report from the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and K2, a recent World Federation of Advertisers Study WFA found that transparency remains the number one priority for almost half (47%) of brands.
The figure forecast to be lost to ad fraud in 2017 currently stands at $16.4bn, and the WFA claims that 40% are developing internal solutions to the problem, highlighting a trend for brining digital buying capabilities in-house or working to a hybrid model.
Nissan has sought to mitigate the risks of an industry grappling with what’s been described by others as a “murky at best fraudulent at worst” digital ecosystem by in-housing its digital media buying.
But away from problems like online safety and viewability, de Vries believes there is a tougher nut to crack – creativity.
While he has recruited in-house digital media specialists, Nissan – unlike other brands – doesn't’ have a dedicated in-house media team. Bringing in more internal data and analytics capabilities are high on the agenda but there are elements of this which are still contracted out to agencies, including OMD which handles the brand's media account.
“My biggest focus now is how we can create agile creative,” he added, giving the example that advancements in digital targeting mean that during the costumer journey Nissan can be faced with over 27 shopper profiles, each in three or four different phases of the purchase consideration – all of whom could potentially buy a car.
“You now need 75 or 80 pieces of creative that still lather up to one message and that’s still going to be a bigger challenge in the future,” de Vries asserted.
With agencies going through an intense period of consolidation, brands have been turning to different models to tackle this step-change – Airbnb for example works to a hybrid in-house/agency model to produce creative content, while others like Unilever have been turning to UGC platforms like Vidsy to produce various iterations of creative campaigns for local markets or building their own in-house content studios.
For Nissan, it's unlikely the latter will be an option, with de Vries putting this down to the company's own internal capabilities. When it comes to creating agile content, however, on the production side the brand is "absolutely" looking at what should be done in-house and what should be outsourced.
Within the wider industry, de Vries is firm in his belief that the model is going to change. From Nissan's point of view, it has "far more" direct relationships with media owners – the Google, Facebook, the Twitter as well as big broadcasters –than it has in the past.
"That trend will continue – some companies will have internal departments for creative and some will keep outsourcing it but in five years time the industry will look completely different. The role of a creative agency, the role of a media agency, the role of data and analytics, the role of a client; all of these things are changing at a rapid pace."
With change, comes opportunity - and discussion around the role of agencies has not gone unnoticed by management consultancies which are snapping at the heels of creative shops. The likes Accenture and Deloitte are increasingly encroaching into ad land’s turf, and while de Vries acknowledged that his brand is using the services of these businesses more, he remains unconvinced of the role they will play in the creative arena.
"Today, you see media companies starting to produce creative, you see more creative companies working across data and analytics – so everybody is jumping on the bandwagon to try and solve these [industry issues] and it’s not clear yet where they will go.
De Vries is aware that everyone "wants a piece of the pie" when it comes to creative; "we need to think about what the role of the agencies will be, and I think in a few years time the agency grid will look completely different."